Editorial﹕Tensions in the Middle East

【明報專訊】LAST Thursday the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down a US drone with a surface‑to‑air missile. In response US president Donald Trump ordered military retaliatory action, only to call it off at the eleventh hour, saying instead he did not believe Iran's strike had been "intentional". But the US has stepped up its sanctions against Iran nevertheless, launching cyberattacks to paralyse Iran's system of weaponry. With tensions rising in the Middle East, global oil prices have rocketed again.

Since Donald Trump came to power, the US's policies towards the Middle East have undergone significant changes. It withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and imposed sanctions against the country again, issuing a full blockade of the export of Iranian oil. It has fully co‑opted countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia to build a "Middle‑East NATO", pitching its weapons at the countries and safeguarding Israel's unilateral security. It is also pushing ahead with the "deal of the century", trying to resolve conflicts between Israel and Palestine with money. It is generally believed that such policy changes made by Trump are aimed at drumming up support from Jewish organisations and currying favour with arms manufacturers, as they are both his trump cards for his 2020 reelection campaign.

Though his policies are heavily influenced by neo‑conservatism, Trump is not a neo‑conservative himself. He is a shrewd businessman. He invited neo‑conservatives like John Bolton to the cabinet to take advantage of their radicality, but he does not want to be hamstrung by them. His strategy in principle is to let his advisers conduct diplomatic arson all around the world — or even issue threats of war — to frighten the US's adversaries into submission so that they will sign those humiliating agreements. From the Sino‑US trade war to the conflicts between the US and Iran, the US has been employing such "maximum pressure" tactics. The problem is that such threats do not work all the time. With the relationship between the US and Iran over the past 40 years, it is clear that the US does want to strike Iran, but it cannot do so. It is particularly worried about the consequences. The Tehran authorities have been able to negotiate the US's borderline with remarkable accuracy, responding to the US's bluffs with their own.

Currently the US has a strained relationship with many world powers and international organisations. In the Asia‑Pacific region it has an ongoing trade war with China. In Europe there is a confrontation with Russia. The tariff wars have won the US enemies all around the world and caused incessant bickering with them. The Afghanistan and Iraq wars cost US taxpayers six trillion US dollars. As a businessman, Trump understands very well that if an all‑out war with Iran breaks out, the cost will only be higher. It is difficult for the US's finances as they stand to support an all‑out war with Iran.

The Iran crisis is another crisis manufactured by the Trump administration itself. It did not exist before the US pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. The Trump administration's attempt to pressure the Iranian regime to crumble is not realistic. The two countries should try to resolve the problem through diplomatic negotiations. "It takes who tied the bell to untie it," as the saying goes. If the US is willing to relax sanctions against Iran, there might be a way out of the current situation. If the US and Iran continue such brinkmanship, it will be impossible to rule out a head‑on conflict. If things develop in such a way, the whole world — not just the Middle East — will be seriously harmed.

明報社評 2019.06.24﹕中東局勢劍拔弩張 美伊須防擦槍走火







at the eleventh hour﹕the last moment before sth important happens

shrewd﹕clever at understanding and making judgements about a situation

brinkmanship﹕the activity, especially in politics, of getting into a situation that could be very dangerous in order to frighten people and make them do what you want

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